There was reason for concern: the last doctor to provide abortions here was shot to death because of his work. But rather than lower her profile, Dr. Means raised it by buying a car that nobody could miss: a bright-yellow Mini Cooper, emblazoned, appropriately enough, with lightning bolts.
“It’s partly an in-your-face response,” she explained. “You’re looking for me. I’m here.”
Two years have passed since this city, for decades the volatile epicenter of the national fight over abortion, was shaken by the murder of Dr. George R. Tiller — a controversial figure because of his willingness to perform later-term abortions — by a man who said he wanted to stop the killing of babies.
Since then, abortion rights advocates have hoped that someone would take Dr. Tiller’s place to show that violence is not an effective way to stop abortions. Despite their vows to redouble their commitment, the murder of Dr. Tiller actually scared people away. Opponents, even those who criticized the killing, have noted with some satisfaction that no abortions have been provided here since.
Now a little-known physician has stepped into this tinderbox environment to take the mantle — indeed, the very instruments — of the man many abortion rights advocates regard as a martyr.
But Dr. Means is certainly not the ideological warrior many expected to fill his void. She said her decision to start performing abortions was as much about making money for her struggling practice as about restoring access to a constitutional right.
A second effort to establish an abortion clinic is under way, led by a group of prominent abortion rights advocates. The group has raised money but is still searching for a doctor willing to provide abortions in a city where doing so has in recent years required a bulletproof vest and an armored car.
“It’s about restoring access and standing our ground,” said Julie Burkhart, a former political director for Dr. Tiller who now runs the group Trust Women...
“It would have been difficult for Dr. Means to provide abortion care in Wichita, period,” said Peter B. Brownlie, the president of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, which dropped plans to open an abortion clinic here after failing to find a local doctor willing to endure the expected harassment. “Now it’s doubly difficult.”
But Dr. Means decided last summer that she had little choice but to try.
She looked at the finances of her solo family practice and figured she might be the poorest doctor in the state. Though she lives modestly, she has had continuing problems managing money: her credit card companies have taken her to court, and her checks occasionally bounce. Determined to work alone, she did not have enough patients to cover the bills.
Offering abortions seemed the easiest way to keep the doors to her small office open, she said. The need was also there, she felt. The nearest provider was more than three hours away, and for the first time patients had been asking her where to go to end a pregnancy. (Statistics kept by the State of Kansas show that the number of women from the Wichita area who received abortions in the state dropped by nearly half.)
The first time Dr. Means arrived at the clinic, protesters outside pleaded with her not to have an abortion. The second time, one shouted, incredulously, “You can’t be pregnant again.”